Mother’s Day

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It must have been when I was only seven or eight years of age. Mother’s Day had once again arrived. I remember my father coming home the night before with a number of red carnations. As we readied ourselves for church, each of us had a carnation pinned to our clothes. I was told that this is what people did on Mother’s Day.

When I arrived at the church, however, I noted a number of people were wearing white flowers. When asked, my father explained that on Mother’s Day if your mother is living, you wear a red flower and if your mother has gone home to God, you wear a white flower. I quickly decided that I was very happy that I was wearing a red carnation. Six decades have passed since that Sunday morning. But the memory came to mind as I prepared to write this column.

Much has changed in my life over these past six decades, as I am sure much has changed for those who are reading this column. But whether your mothers have been called home to the happiness of God or are still with you in the joys of daily living, it is fitting that we pay tribute to our mothers on this day.

Although Mother’s Day is celebrated in many countries, its widespread celebration in the U.S. is little more than 100 years old. In 1905 when her mother died, Anna Jarvis began a campaign to memorialize her mother. She began to lobby prominent businessmen and politicians to support the campaign to create a special day to honor mothers.  It was Anna who handed out her mother’s favorite flower, the white carnation, to begin this Mother’s Day celebration.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a national holiday. Although the day has become more commercialized, the annual celebration of Mother’s Day gives us time to remember and be grateful for our mothers.

The Catholic Church has a wonderful tradition of honoring mothers beginning with the recognition it gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We also speak lovingly of the important role a mother plays in the life of the Church and the world.

Joseph Cardinal Mindzenty, a hero of my youth and a great defender and protector of the Church in Hungary, taught a valuable lesson about mothers. This is what he had to say: “The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral — a dwelling place for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. … The Angels have not been blessed with such a grace.  They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation …. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than to be a mother?”

Today we salute all earthly mothers. We thank them for the gift of life and for the sacrifices that they have made. We reverence mothers as special treasures. Mothers have a very distinctive place in fulfilling God’s plan. They not only give us life, but they nurture its growth. We pray today in a special way for those mothers who strive and often sacrifice to give their children so much. We remind mothers that their gift of love is the gift that truly counts and the gift that lasts not only for a short time but in hearts and minds forever.

I remember, too, on Mother’s Day that the Church is our Mother. Cardinal de Lubac, a gifted theologian, in his book, The Splendor of the Church, reminds us that every true Catholic will have a feeling of tender pity towards the Church. He will love to call her “mother,” the title that sprang from the hearts of her first children. Thanks to the Church the Gospel is proposed to all, both the great and the small of the world from generation to generation. If it does not produce in us its fruition of life, the fault is ours.

On this Mother’s Day we pray for our own mothers both living and deceased. We pray for the Church, Our Mother. And we ask that Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, watch over and protect us all.

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